In Tunisia, Zach Murphy wasn’t a novelty. He wasn’t hassled, and never felt like a tourist or an outsider. But the environment of the country felt completely foreign to him.
That dichotomy intrigued him.
Zach didn’t know much about Tunisia — just that it was flanked by two huge African countries (Algeria and Libya) and that some of the scenes from the “Star Wars” series had been filmed there. He always tries to maximize his travel efforts by booking effective layovers, and after a six-month trip around Northern Africa and the Middle East, Tunisia was on his way back to the United States.
He enjoys visiting places he doesn’t have many expectations about, likes the discovery aspect it adds to traveling. Tunisia presented a bit of a challenge … Zach just didn’t realize how steep that challenge would be.
Unable to speak Arabic or French (the first and second languages in Tunisia), Zach found himself at a loss. He wasn’t able to order something to eat, let alone have conversations with the locals, and this disadvantage set him back.
The heat was unrelenting — sometimes upwards of 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, easily the hottest temperatures Zach had ever experienced. He pushed through the most sweltering hours of the day to take advantage of the light for photography, and found himself confounded by the men who were bundled in many layers in the middle of summer. And, several times, because of the lack of internal infrastructure in Tunisia, Zach waited hours on end for a bus to and from certain locations around the country.
It was frustrating — one of the most difficult places he’s ever traveled — but rewarding, too.
When he set out to see the southern part of the country, he stumbled across huge ruins of past civilizations, just waiting to be explored. There were no admission tickets to be bought, no gates or tour guides. Monuments to former empires, seemingly forgotten, were his to discover. The lack of signs and informative plaques made imagination essential, and Zach could feel the rich history of this place as he wandered the ruins. There were layers and layers of history and stories beneath the sand.
In the evenings, when the air cooled and the cities came alive again, Tunisian men would take their seats at street-facing cafes. They’d smoke a cigarette, have an espresso, and observe life going on around them. There wasn’t much chit-chat, but Zach loved being part of the ritual.
When I talked to Zach about his recent eight-day trip, he used the words, “the pure exhilaration of exploration,” to describe his love for travel.
It’s a phrase that seems to perfectly describe what he found in Tunisia — excitement and frustration; history and tradition; the known, and, more importantly, the unknown.